Gluten Sensitivities Are Probably Not Just in Your Head…
You’ve probably heard of gluten―a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye―and you probably know that some people can’t eat it. You may have even heard that those people have something called celiac disease. But did you know that some people who don’t have celiac disease shouldn’t eat gluten either?
For years, many doctors didn’t take the term “gluten sensitivity” very seriously. A surprising number of people claiming to be gluten sensitive complained of abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, and depressed mood after eating wheat and other gluten-containing products. But where was the proof that gluten was the culprit? The common wisdom was that gluten intolerance was caused by celiac disease, and celiac disease could be definitively diagnosed by the presence of certain biomarkers.
Those markers are missing in certain people who claim gluten sensitivity. They don’t have the cytotoxic T cells produced by the immune systems of celiac patients in response to damage inflicted in the small intestine. Celiac antibodies don’t show up in their blood tests—they don’t have a wheat allergy.
Many concluded that since these so-called gluten-sensitive people don’t have celiac disease, they must simply be hypochondriacs who are imagining the whole thing.
Now, however, a new study demonstrates that these people aren’t just dreaming up their symptoms. They have what is known as non-celiac gluten or wheat sensitivity (NCWS).
What the Study Found
The Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) study, which appeared in the journal Gut last July, examined 80 people with NCWS and 40 with confirmed celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine. The NCWS subjects’ symptoms were quite similar to those of the celiac patients, but they lacked the distinctive markers of celiac disease.
During the study, the NCWS patients exhibited a clear cause-and-effect relationship. After six months of consuming diets free of wheat and other gluten-containing products, their symptoms significantly improved.
The CUMC study finally confirms the link between wheat and the self-reported symptoms in non-celiac patients that mimic those of celiac disease. In these patients, wheat is what triggers the severe immune response and damage to the intestinal wall.
What is still unclear is the role of gluten.
Dr. Armin Alaedini, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia and the study’s lead researcher, says that “there is some ambiguity there, which is why we are referring to it as non-celiac wheat sensitivity for now. More studies are needed to understand the mechanism and identify the molecular triggers responsible for the breach of the intestinal barrier and the associated symptoms in affected patients.”
It’s estimated that the number of people impacted by NCWS may equal or even exceed those afflicted with celiac disease. It’s estimated that three million people have been diagnosed with celiac disease, but the number could be much higher because many who have the disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Perhaps the most important thing about this study is the researchers’ identification of specific biomarkers that explain the severe reaction to wheat in persons without celiac disease. Going forward, a new blood test may enable accurate diagnosis of NCWS; however, more study is needed since the CUMC study was limited to only 80 people.
Could You Be Sensitive to Gluten?
Symptoms commonly associated with both celiac disease and NCWS include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, bone or joint pain, brain fog, poor memory, depression, chronic fatigue, and behaviors similar to ADHD.
If you think you may have a wheat or gluten sensitivity, a physician within the BodyLogicMD network can help.
BodyLogicMD physicians have extensive training in nutrition and can work with you to assess whether you are wheat- or gluten-sensitive and manage your symptoms through diet. They’ll provide important information about how to eliminate symptom-causing foods from your diet with gluten-free grains and flours, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
They’re also specialists in the healing properties of dietary supplements. In their work with wheat- and gluten-sensitive patients, a number of supplements such as L-glutamine, which works to heal the cells of the gastrointestinal tract, may prove helpful.
Call today for a consultation. Your BodyLogicMD physician will create a diet and treatment plan to address your specific needs.